What is a Social Token?

In Forefront's "Social Tokens Year In Review" from 2020, Cooper Turley defined social tokens as "an emerging category of digital assets backed by the reputation of an individual, brand or community." Many individuals and communities, both before and after, have contributed their own definition of what a social token is, helping to shape the space while capturing nuances along the way.

But what kind of synergistic overlap might we find between the various definitions? What shared characteristics do social tokens have, and how might social tokens relate to, say, creator tokens or community tokens?

In this section of FF Learn: Social Tokens, we'll help you sort through the various definitions, characteristics, and categories that make up the incredible, dynamic world of social tokens.

Definitions

To get a better sense of what we're dealing with, here are a variety of ways that social tokens have been defined so far:

“A social token represents a fractionalized share in the intrinsic value of a community, brand, or human. It’s a form of the ownership economy giving participants exposure to the growth trajectory of whatever the community is clustered around as well as the potential to help shape that trajectory.” - The Defiant


“Social Tokens are the broad category of crypto projects that often includes Personal Tokens, Creator Tokens, Community and Brand tokens. They represent the value and ownership or relationship to a creator or community." - Jess Sloss, Seed Club


"Social tokens are crypto tokens issued by individuals or communities that represent ownership in and value provided by creators and communities." - Shreyas Hariharan, Llama

A few other terms may sometimes be used interchangeably to describe social tokens, like “creator coins”, “community currency”, or “social money” — including several categories of social tokens, like “community tokens”, “personal tokens”, or “brand tokens”. The common thread in all of these definitions is that social tokens act as a tool for collaboration and coordination within communities to capture the shared upside value generated together. By creating a participatory economy between creators, workers, community, and an audience, social tokens can build community power and enable thriving independent creator economies.

Characteristics

Social token projects often share many unique characteristics. In contrast to other kinds of tokens (like meme coins built around financial speculation), social tokens are built around principles that don’t rely on or revolve around token price. While projects can utilize social tokens for governing power, they still function differently from protocol governance tokens that principally represent a voting stake in a particular protocol. They also differ from traditional corporate equity in that, most often, they do not represent legal ownership or financial interest (like revenue share, income share, or debt agreements).

Instead, social tokens are a representation of the trust, social capital, reputation, and intangible brand value of a community.

Some characteristics of social tokens include:

  • Organic usage
  • Utility outside of speculation
  • Community stewardship by core contributors
  • Principles that do not revolve entirely around token price
  • Typically built around an existing community

As a tool, social tokens have the ability to do something radical: build sustainable independent creative economies supporting work that creates shared community value. They represent a new way to support creative networks, enabling platform-independent methods of exchanging experiences, access, perks, and more.

Categories

While there is ongoing debate on how to delineate what qualifies as a social token and what qualities they might possess, there are several categories that often fit under the “social token” umbrella.

Community tokens: Community tokens are generally used within collectives that do not center around one individual or creator. In this instance, community tokens may allow a community to organize around shared mutual goals or outcomes, oftentimes within a DAO. Groups that could use community tokens include informal clubs, online communities, collectives, or cooperatives.

Creator tokens: Creator tokens are similar to fan clubs, where creators can use tokens to reward fans with different kinds of perks or levels of access. In this case, tokens serve as an incentivizing and organizational tool to mobilize a creator-centric community towards a collective mission.

Personal tokens: Personal tokens can be implemented by one person, either abstractly tokenizing their reputation or their time. $ALEX was one of the early pioneers in creating a token for himself. As another example, designer Matthew Vernon created a token called $BOI, in which one token is meant to represent one hour of time upon redemption.

Brand tokens: Brand tokens are distinct in that they may be used by an existing organization in a way that looks like a loyalty reward point system.